Honoring Dr. Justina Ford: Colorado’s first licensed Black woman physician
February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans throughout U.S. history. RTD is proud to pay tribute to Dr. Justina Ford, who battled racial and gender barriers to become Colorado’s first licensed Black woman physician.
Dr. Ford was born on Jan. 22, 1871, in Knoxville, Illinois, the daughter of two former slaves. As a young girl, she accompanied her mother, who provided nursing care to poor, ailing neighbors.
Following graduation from Hering Medical College in Chicago in 1899, she worked briefly at an Alabama hospital, but moved to Denver in search of a community that would recognize her as a physician.
Dr. Ford practiced medicine and treated patients for 50 years from her home in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. A specialist in obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics, she delivered over 7,000 babies, sometimes accepting pay in the form of local produce or chickens.
She came to be known by her patients as “The Baby Doctor,” but it was only after she had been in practice for 33 years that Dr. Ford became a member of the faculty at Denver General Hospital (now Denver Health Medical Center). Even then, she was not allowed to practice at the hospital. In 1950, two years before her death, Dr. Ford was admitted to the Denver and Colorado Medical Societies.
In 1984, Historic Denver and American historian Paul Stewart saved Dr. Ford’s home and office from demolition. The building was moved to 3091 California St., where it now houses the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center.
In 1998, RTD dedicated a bronze sculpture of Dr. Ford across the street from the museum at its L Line light rail station at 30th and Downing streets. The sculpture, called “Lady Doctor,” was created by artist Jess DuBois and pays tribute to Dr. Ford as the first female African American doctor licensed in the state of Colorado. The artwork is located on the station plaza along Downing Street.